Fun and Work on the Web: Differences in Attitudes Between Novices and Experienced Users

Kathy Hammond, London Business School
Gil McWilliam, London Business School
Andrea Narholz Diaz, London Business School
ABSTRACT - This research explores the differences between novice and more experienced Web users and their appreciation of the Web’s entertainment and informational value. A two-stage study with the same subjects after a 4-month interval was conducted. Our findings show that while prior experience is an important moderator of users’ attitudes towards the Web, its influence is not linear. The heaviest users are enthusiasts for the medium, while moderate and light users perceive it as a source of information, but not for entertainment or fun. If this finding generalizes, it will have a significant impact on the growth and development of the Web as a mass medium.
[ to cite ]:
Kathy Hammond, Gil McWilliam, and Andrea Narholz Diaz (1998) ,"Fun and Work on the Web: Differences in Attitudes Between Novices and Experienced Users", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 372-378.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 372-378

FUN AND WORK ON THE WEB: DIFFERENCES IN ATTITUDES BETWEEN NOVICES AND EXPERIENCED USERS

Kathy Hammond, London Business School

Gil McWilliam, London Business School

Andrea Narholz Diaz, London Business School

ABSTRACT -

This research explores the differences between novice and more experienced Web users and their appreciation of the Web’s entertainment and informational value. A two-stage study with the same subjects after a 4-month interval was conducted. Our findings show that while prior experience is an important moderator of users’ attitudes towards the Web, its influence is not linear. The heaviest users are enthusiasts for the medium, while moderate and light users perceive it as a source of information, but not for entertainment or fun. If this finding generalizes, it will have a significant impact on the growth and development of the Web as a mass medium.

INTRODUCTION

The Internet is developing from a channel for communication between academics into a new mass medium (Morris and Ogan 1996). In this study we are concerned primarily with the World Wide Web-the part of the Internet comprising individual home pages and company sites. For the marketer, there are potentially many uses for the Web, from the posting of public relations information such as financial statements and corporate history, selling goods via on-line catalogues and ordering, and the management of customer communications (Hoffman and Novak 196). The growth and development of the Web as a mass medium will depend on how the consumer responds to these early offerings. Three important questions here are:

(i) What will people use the Web for? (e.g. information searches, shopping, fun).

(ii) What are the characteristics and attitudes of users which will affect their Web behavior (e.g. Web experience, motivations, enthusiasm for the medium).

(iii) Can we identify potential Web users, (e.g. from their attitudes towards PC usage?).

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Broadly we might characterize potential consumer uses of commercial sites on the Web in two ways: first, as a channel for commercial exchange, including not only purchasing, but also browsing and seeking individualized information about products and services; second, use of the Web as a medium for information or entertainment in a similar way to how we presently use television, computer games, or print media. Although there are unique features associated with the Web, it will replace neither traditional media, nor most shopping activity (just as television did not replace radio, nor out-of-town malls lead to the complete disappearance of markets and convenience stores). Rather, Web usage will likely be incorporated into consumers’ current portfolios of activities. For this reason, it is appropriate to examine Web behavior in the light of theories associated with existing media and shopping behaviors.

Shopping Behavior: Purposive or Just Fun

Most studies which have explored decision-making processes in the shopping environment have the measure of product purchase as a final objective. The Web has little reported sales, and to concentrate on purchase would, at this stage of the Web’s development, not yield generalizable results. Our aim here is to understand consumers’ interaction with the medium as a potential shopping channel, and as such, the literature on browsing activity is the most appropriate. Bloch, Ridgway and Sherrell (1989) define browsing as "an ongoing search activity that is independent of specific purchase needs or decisions". Importantly, they propose that the triggers of browsing activities can be both recreation and search for information (i.e. fun as well as work).

Consumers use different strategies to navigate through a shopping environment depending upon the purpose or task of a particular shopping trip (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982). As Babin, Darden and Griffin (1994) and Baumgartner and Steenkamp (1996) propose, shopping need not be evaluated solely in terms of the goods or services acquired, it can involve experiential as well as utilitarian outcomes. If the purpose of a shopping trip is to locate a particular item, then the search process tends to be of a utilitarian (problem solving) nature; if the main purpose of the trip is more fun oriented, then the search strategy involves more hedonic (experiential) behavior (Bloch, Ridgway and Sherrell 1989; Titus and Everett 1995).

In terms of Web behavior, the ease with which potential goal-directed shoppers can find the information they want, and the reliability they can place on that information, will be key determinants in their repeated use of the Web. Those who want to browse for fun, and have no particular product or piece of information in mind when they access Web sites, will be less concerned with ease of access or with reliability, but may be more concerned ith whether the process gives them sufficient stimulation, new interests and fun to keep them coming back.

The Effect of Knowledge

Consumers have varying amounts of knowledge both about the products they are interested in and about the environment in which they access these products. Previous studies have noted the moderating effects of domain knowledge or expertise on purchasing behavior (Alba and Chattopadhyay 1985; Bettman and Park 1980; Bouwman 1984). For Web usage, which, certainly in the short to medium term, is very much dependent on a particular set of skills such as computer familiarity and typing, domain knowledge (i.e. experience with the interactive environment) could prove to be an important factor in determining what sorts of activities consumers engage in. Titus and Everett (1995) propose that consumer familiarity with the shopping environment may improve perceptions of its legibility (i.e. familiarity helps in the extraction and comprehension of relevant information). However, they also suggest that familiarity may have a negative effect on perceptions of environmental stimulation, insofar as the lack of challenge may lead to boredom and hence create an unattractive shopping environment. For example, they refer to the "organized chaos" of the bargain basement enhancing the shopping environment by creating a sense of "hidden treasure". Similarly, if the Web environment were to be used only for goal-directed information seeking, and it lacked hedonic stimulation or entertainment value, then the more impulsive and playful "shopping as leisure" might not take place via the Web.

Figure 1, below, captures how the perceived value of the Web might change depending on level of experience. Experienced users, who may perceive the Web as highly legible will have greater appreciation of the informational value of the Web than novices who lack that important familiarity. On the other hand, experienced users may also suffer a reduction in the level of stimulation which the Web gives them precisely because of its familiarity, and therefore their perception of its entertainment value will be lower than that of novices.

FIGURE 1

However, there may additionally be an effect on perceptions about the Web and its usage according to whether the Web is accessed for utilitarian or hedonic purposes. Thus those accessing the Web for fun will have greater expectations of being entertained than those intent on finding a definite piece of information.

Media Behavior

In contrast to the Titus and Everett (1995) proposition that an increase in familiarity may reduce the environmental stimulation of a shopping experience, it has been found from research on television viewing (Barwise and Ehrenberg 1987) that increased exposure, i.e. familiarity, results in increased liking. It is also generally accepted that enduring involvement (resulting from a hobby or profession for example) co-varies with expertise (Mitchell and Dacin 1996). As a result we might expect the experienced Web user not only to be more adept at accessing sites, but also consistently more enthusiastic for the medium.

Because of the heightened involvement resulting from the nature of the interactivity inherent in this medium, we might expect to see considerable attention paid to the information contained therein so that, irrespective of level of experience all Web site visitors share similar rates of recall of sites visited.

AIMS OF THE STUDY

From the above discussion, five broad hypotheses are suggested:

H1: Experienced users of the Web will place a higher value on the information found on the Web (i.e. perceive it as more legible) compared to those with less experience.

H2: Experienced users will perceive the Web as less fun than less experienced users (i.e. environmental stimulation will be diminished through repeated exposure).

H3: Users with a hedonic task will value the fun aspects of the Web more than those with an utilitarian task

H4: Users with a utilitarian task will value the information aspects of the Web more than those with a hedonic task.

H5: Web users will display similar levels of recall of sites visited, irrespective of experience.

It may be that high levels of Web experience are suggestive of more than just knowledge and familiarity. It may be that we are also dealing with people for whom the Web has become a hobby in its own right. These people will thus have an enduring involvement with the medium, and will thus be distinguished from lighter users by a more constant appreciation of both utilitarian and hedonic qualities of the Web. Accordingly our sixth hypothesis reads:

H6: The value of the Web both as a source of information and entertainment will be more stable over time for experienced users.

In the empirical research described below we present the results of a study which aims to test these hypotheses. The first data were collected in October 1996, and a second survey of the same respondents was conducted in February 1997.

METHOD

Controlled Experiment on Web Use

A diverse group of subjects (within the constraint that they needed to be computer literate) volunteered to take part in a Web activity. Half the subjects were told that the object of the activity was to collect information, and that they would be asked what information they had collected (i.e. the activity was utilitarian). The other half were told that they were to enjoy themselves and would not be questioned on what they had found (i.e. the activity was hedonic). Subjects were allocated randomly to either the utilitarian or hedonic activity. Immediately after the activity they answered a questionnaire on their prior Web use, demographics, general attitudes to the Web and to computers, attitudes to the activity just completed, and recall of companies/brands noticed. The subjects came from staff and graduate students at an international business school, and were paid a nominal sum of money for taking part.

The request for volunteers was sent by email ensuring that all subjects were familiar with computers. Approximately 1,000 people were contacted, 113 volunteered. Two-thirds were students, one third were staff; about half were over 30 years old; just under two-thirds were men.

Scale Development of the Questionnaire

A review of the literature on shopping behavior, media effects, and the moderating influences of domain expertise, enabled us to identify a number of relevant scale items. The scale developed by Babin, Darden and Griffin (1994), measuring the hedonic and utilitarian value of shopping, was adapted for application to an interactive environment. Other questions on involvement with the search activity came from Celsi and Olson (1988), and questions on "microcomputer playfulness" from Webster and Martochio (1992). Some questions on attitudes towards the Web were adapted from an online questionnaire (SRI 1996). All questions were scored on a five-point scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). A pilot study, conducted amongst eleven subjects was used to test the proposed Web activity, the equipment and the questionnaire.

Operationalization of Experience

In addition to giving demographic details, each respondent provided information on their previous Web usage. A measure of experience was constructed by combining the answers to questions on: total number of hours spent on Web, how long ago they first accessed the Web, how often they accessed it, and whether they felt "at ease" on the Web. One quarter of respondents had never accessed the Web before, one quarter had moderate levels of experience. Given that we were to give the novices some experience, we combined them with those who had at least some prior experience to form a group which we term moderates. The remaining half we call experienced users.

RESULTS

The Main Study-First Stage

In the main study, subjects were required to take part in a Web activity lasting half an hour and immediately after to answer a questionnaire. To ensure that the novices in particular could start the activity with minimum interference, subjects were given a list of eight broad topics each with ten specific Web addresses (art and culture; cars, bicycles and motorcycles; entertainment; food and cooking; medicine and health; personal investment; sports; travel), but they were also told that they had the freedom to explore anywhere if they wished. Subjects were told they could use the addresses given to start their activity, or use a search engine, and that they could continue the activity in this way or could follow links as they wished.

Limited instructions were given on search engines, and technical help was given during the activity if the subject would not have been able to continue without intervention (e.g. if the computer screen froze). We aimed to control the environment so that all subjects had, as far as external factors were concerned, the same experience. The controls were: all subjects used PCs of exactly the same specification (Windows 95, 16MB RAM, 133 disc access speed); the same Web browsing software; no bookmarks were available; a proxy server [The proxy server used hold the most frequently accessed Web sites (approximately 1% of all Web sites) in local storage. This meant that subjects were almost always accessing sites from the proxy server. They were not aware of this, but the intervention meant that access time wa held as constant as possible across subjects.] was installed on all PCs.

Findings From First Stage

Three of the pilot group of subjects were given a slightly different Web activity and questionnaire, and results for these subjects are not reported here, responses for the other pilot subjects do not differ systematically from the main sample and are included-giving a total sample size of 110. In Table 1 we present the main findings from the questionnaire on users’ general attitudes to the Web. Most questions (column 1) were of the form "please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statement". The next two columns give the mean responses (on a scale from 1 to 5, disagree strongly to agree strongly) for all respondents, broken down by their level of Web usage (moderate and experienced users). The final column indicates whether the mean scores for moderates and experienced users are significantly different (p>.05)

The first group of five results concern responses to questions about information on the Web. Overall, respondents agreed that the Web provides a valuable source of information, although there was less agreement about the quality, reliability and relevance of that information. If we look at the responses by level of Web experience, for all five questions, there are significant differences between responses for the eperienced users and responses for the moderate users, with the experienced users always placing a higher value on Web-based information. There is therefore support for Hypothesis 1 that experienced users of the Web will place a higher value on information found on the Web compared to moderate users.

The next five results concern respondents’ attitudes to whether the Web could be used for fun. Overall, the respondents agreed strongly that the Web could be used for recreation and entertainment. However, looking at the responses by level of experience, we see a different pattern to that found for the information questions. The direction is for experienced users to perceive the Web as more fun (or potentially more fun) than moderate users (the opposite of our hypothesis), however the differences are significant for only one question. Experienced users certainly do not perceive the Web as less fun than those with only a little experience, thus there is little evidence that familiarity is breeding contempt either in terms of work or play. We therefore find no support for Hypothesis 2.

We also find no support for hypotheses H3 and H4; users with a hedonic task did not value the fun aspects of the Web more than those with an utilitarian task; users with a utilitarian task did not value the information aspects of the Web more than those with a hedonic task. [These means are not reported here in detail since there was no discrimination between the two groups.]

The final question in Table 1 relates to recall of companies/brands seen during the half-hour Web activity. On average moderates visited 7.25 different sites, and experienced users visited 8.47. The numbers in the final row refer to the number of companies/brands recalled. Experienced users recalled more companies/brands than moderates, but this finding is tempered by the fact that experienced users also visited more sites. All Web users display similar levels of recall per site visited; we therefore find support for H5.

Findings From The Second Stage of Research

The relationship between experience and enduring involvement was tested via a second questionnaire, with the same questions, sent four months later to all those who had taken part in the first stage. The results in Table 2 are based on Stage 2 respondents who had used the Web in the intervening four months (64% of the original sample). In comparing the two time periods we have retained the original classification, since none of the moderates had increased their usage to the extent that they had caught up with the (now even more) experienced group.

Over time, negative perceptions of the informational value of the Web as perceived by moderates decrease slightly (see starred means for significant differences between T1 and T2 for 2 of the 4 questions in the first section of Table 2). However, their appreciation of the Web as a source of fun decreases (directionally for all T2 questions in Table 2, with 2 differences being significant). From T1 to T2 experienced users directionally downgrade their perception of the value of both information and fun on the Web ( but only 1 difference is significant).

The final 2 columns in Table 2 report the significant differences in scores between experienced users and moderates (first for those who answered the questionnaires at T1, then for those who answered at T2). As already shown in Table 1, in the first study we see that experienced users value information on the Web more highly than moderates, but there are no significant differences by experience level attached to the fun aspects of the Web. In the second study, all respondents scored less on the fun questions at T2, but experienced users still have a slightly higher appreciation of the fun value than moderates, with two of these differences being statistically significant. H6, which proposed that the value of the Web as a source of information and entertainment would be more stable over time for the most experienced users, is therefore only partially supported since it appears that with time there is a homogenizing effect in terms of the appreciation of the Web as a source of informatio, but not as a source of entertainment or fun.

TABLE 1

ATTITUDES TO THE WEB: DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MODERATE AND EXPERIENCES WEB USERS

TABLE 2

ATTITUDES TO THE WEB: DIFFERENCES OVER TIME BETWEEN MODERATES AND EXPERIENCED WEB USERS

TABLE 3

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN RESPONDENTS WITH DIFFERING LEVELS OF WEB EXPERIENCE (STAGES 1 AND 2)

So as to explore whether an increase in experience relates linearly to greater appreciation of the Web as a source of either fun or information, further analyses were conducted sub-dividing both studies into those who were absolute novices before the first experiment, those who had some experience at Stage 1 (up to 50 hours), whom we now call intermediates, and those who had a good deal of experience at Stage 1 (over 50 hours Web use). Table 3 details the results.

We can see from Table 3 that in terms of appreciation of information, those with intermediate amounts of experience and those with none (ie novices) share very similar perceptions at both stages. The only departure to this pattern is that the novices seem to lose some of their mistrust of the informational value of the Web over the four month period (in other words, they lose some of their initial negative perceptions). However the intermediate group hardly changes its mind at all in the intervening period.

The significant differences, in terms of appreciation of Web information, occur between the most experienced Web users and the others. In every case, at Stage 1 and 2 we see that those with the most experience seem to have a far greater appreciation of the Web in terms of the information it delivers.

When we look at the scores for fun however we see that immediately after the controlled experiment that there are greater similarities of perception between all groups, with smaller significant differences occurring between the experienced users and the others. However it is on the scoring of the Web as entertainment that we see the greatest shifts over time. In every case, the novices and the intermediates downgrade their appreciation of the Web as a vehicle for entertainment and leisure. The experienced users also downwardly adjust their perceptions here, but to a lesser extent than either the novices or intermediates. As with the information content, the experienced users are more in favor of the Web as entertainment than either intermediates or novices.

This suggests that the perceived value of the Web as either a source of fun or information may not increase automatically with increases in experience. While novices, as they gain additional experience, seem to lose their initial flush of enthusiasm for the fun aspects but increase their appreciation of the informational value, the intermediates do not make similar progressions, and if anything the gap between the intermediates and experienced seems to widen over time-especially as regards the Web’s entertainment value.

TABLE 4

HOW DO RESPONDENTS CHARACTERIZE THEMSELVES WHEN THEY USE COMPUTERS: SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MODERATE AND MOST EXPERIENCED WEB USERS

Other descriptive analysis from Stage 1 reinforce our findings that experienced users of the Web may be somewhat different types of people from intermediates. The experienced users appear to have enduring involvement with the medium, in that they were found to be considerably more likely than less experienced users to be frequent visitors to chat sites/bulletin boards and software archives. Subjects in the first Stage were also given the question "how would you characterize yourself when you use computers?", and asked to score a number of items relating to this question (eg "questioning", "creative", etc.) on a five-point scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). The mean responses for some of the items broken down by moderate or extensive prior Web use are detailed below in Table 4. These two groups showed significant differences in their responses (at the p<.05 level) to all the items listed in Table 4. The responses for the novice group are not given as they were not significantly different from those with moderate experience for any of these items.

DISCUSSION

If we compare the second stage of research with the first we find that almost all the items were rated lower, regardless of the level of usage. We suspect that this effect may ave been the result of a research artifact induced by the laboratory based experimental conditions of the first round of research. The experiment may have artificially increased involvement in, and appreciation for, the activity, i.e. the proximity of the questionnaire to the experiment captured the effects of flow (Hoffman and Novak 1996).

Notwithstanding this, a key persistent difference between experienced and less experienced users seems to emerge from their very different views about the medium as a source of entertainment and fun. This is especially seen as we separate subjects into novice, intermediate and most experienced users. The appreciation of the Web as a source of information increases over time for novice and intermediate users, so that their perceptions become increasingly similar to those of the more experienced users. However, the perception of the Web as fun does not increase over time for less experienced users suggesting that they may never develop heavier usage and/or enduring involvement. These findings suggest that experienced users have enduring involvement in, and enthusiasm for the medium per se, findings which are consistent with those of Ghani and Deshpande (1994).

An implication from these findings might be that lighter users get "stuck" in their usage patterns, with serious implications for how they might view future innovative Web offerings. Given the hedonic aspects of much shopping behavior, if the Web environment were to be used only for goal-directed information seeking, and it lacked hedonic stimulation or entertainment value, then the more impulsive, and playful "shopping as leisure" might not take place via the Web.

The fact that we did not find differences in perceptions between those who had a hedonic task and those with a utilitarian task in Stage 1, may be more to do with our operationalization of the two tasks than a replicable finding. As we see from the greater homogeneity between all groups at Stage 1 in their perceptions of the Web as a leisure or entertainment vehicle, and the erosion of these perceptions over time, especially for the novices and intermediates, we may simply have given everyone too much of an enjoyable time.

Our results that the most experienced users might be enthusiasts for the medium, while moderate users may be technically competent, but enjoy the Web less, are specific to the conditions under which the experiment took place. Further work needs to be done to answer questions such as:

If access to the Web happens only in a work context, does this increase the likelihood that people will appreciate the value of information more and the fun aspects less? While on the contrary, if access is usually from the home, then it may feel more "legitimate" to enjoy the fun aspects? Given that many of our respondents were "at work" when we contacted them the second time, and on their "lunch break" during the first stage of the research, then these two aspects of work and rest may well have contributed to our findings on increasing appreciation over time for information and decreasing appreciation for the fun aspects.

Of course all media enjoy heavy, medium and light users, and the Web will flourish if it can deliver interesting heavy and medium users to advertisers and those with interests in exploiting the commercial value of consumers accessing it. A larger scale consumer survey is currently being developed as a third stage of research with the aim of exploring further the determinants of heavy and medium usage of the Web and its information and fun aspects.

If our findings from this stage of research are confirmed by further studies however, they will have a significant impact on how we might model the diffusion of Web usage in the population at large, and the potential for the Web as a mass medium.

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